Skywalker Rises in Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair blessed us this week with their traditional behind-the-scenes peek at The Rise of Skywalker by Lev Grossman, alongside some stunning photos courtesy of Annie Leibovitz. It took me a while to finish this up thanks to work, but I adore the new information that we’ve been given. So have another read of the article and then join me as we work our way through some of its main points!

J.J. Abrams alongside Stunt Coordinator Eunice Huthart and the Knights of Ren.

One thing is clear: the Knights of Ren are back! In the above photo’s description they’re described as the ‘elite fearsome enforces of Kylo Ren’s dark will’. We got a very short glimpse of the Knights of Ren in The Force Awakens during Rey’s Force vision, but they were absent in The Last Jedi. It will be interesting to see how J.J. brings them into the story now. I suspect they will be Kylo’s equivalent of the Snoke’s Elite Praetorian Guard in The Last Jedi, but with a little bit more agency and power. I think we also got a sneaky look at them in the TROS trailer, fighting alongside Kylo, so prepare for some action.

A big part of the article is dedicated t0 the importance of The Rise of Skywalker to the Star Wars universe as the film that, for now at least, signifies the end of the Skywalker Saga. Just how neatly and permanently it will be wrapped up is of course a question. Although I personally wouldn’t like it, making Rey a surprise Skywalker would leave the door open for future family saga movies. Making the Skywalker name a new title, akin to Jedi, would also leave that door open but in a more interesting way. Below is an intriguing quote from the article and J.J. himself:

Now Abrams has to gather all those threads and bring closure to a story that was started by somebody else, in an America that feels a very long time ago indeed. “That’s the challenge of this movie,” Abrams says. “It wasn’t just to make one film that as a stand-alone experience would be thrilling, and scary, and emotional, and funny, but one that if you were to watch all nine of the films, you’d feel like, Well, of course—that!

The Rise of Skywalker will finish what A New Hope started, and as we have recently seen with Game of Thrones, seemingly final endings leave some disappointed. J.J. faces a huge amount of pressure on this, but thankfully he has the Lucas Story Group and Kathleen Kennedy in his corner. Naturally, Vanity Fair can’t quite get away without mentioning the Prequels’ use of CGI and J.J. love for “real effects” but it’s quite good natured. What is very interesting is how it mentions that ‘the newly born Republic became complacent and politically stagnant’, something mirroring rather closely what happens in the Prequels with both the Republic and the Jedi Order. (It all rhymes!) I’m preparing in advance to be sad about the ending, but the direction taken in The Last Jedi gives me some hope this will be an ending to celebrate.

Mark Hamill as Luke with R2D2.

I also loved the below quote from George Lucas:

“I realized after THX that people don’t care about how the country’s being ruined,” Lucas said. “We’ve got to regenerate optimism.”

Not everything has to be pure darkness, not everything has to be tragic. Even Revenge of the Sith, perhaps the most heartbreaking movie in in the Star Wars saga, ended on the hopeful binary suns of Tatooine, representing a new hope rising. Star Wars never loses its optimism no matter how dark it gets. I think it is that element of optimism and fieriness that I have always loved about Star Wars and made me love Rey straight away. She didn’t give up once in The Last Jedi when facing Snoke, instead she kept her faith  that things would turn out good in the end. In our current world optimism in the face of danger and defeat may seem naive but it is still very necessary. It is why The Last Jedi‘s message was so important, if not well received by some. We have to learn from the failures of the past, but in order to do so we have to accept our own failures! Luke did so, thereby saving the Resistance and redeeming himself in his own eyes. The characters from the previous trilogies have to face their own failures, while accepting that it is the new generation that will fix them.

Something that caught my eye as well was the quote below:

But the stakes go even higher than that, cosmically high. Sources close to the movie say that Skywalker will at long last bring to a climax the millennia-long conflict between the Jedi Order and its dark shadow, the Sith.

I have been fascinated by the way Star Wars has handled its prophecy about Anakin Skywalker as the one who brings balance to the force. Perhaps by empowering the Sith in The Revenge of the Sith he did so, ending the domination of the Jedi. Or perhaps he only did so in The Return of the Jedi when he tossed out the Emperor. But now we have indications the Emperor may not be gone, and we have longstanding rumors that Anakin may make an appearance in the Sequels after all. So will the battle between the Jedi and the Sith finally end in The Rise of Skywalker? Perhaps.

Daisy Ridley on set in Jordan as the character as Rey.

I’m also feeling hopeful about the below quote from J.J.:

“It felt slightly more renegade; it felt slightly more like, you know, Fuck it, I’m going to do the thing that feels right because it does, not because it adheres to something.”

For me The Force Awakens felt at times too derivative, missing the fine line between homage and pastiche. I’m all here for J.J. going down Rian Johnson’s route and doing something truly new and spectacular with Star Wars that doesn’t adhere but rhymes. Although I hold George Lucas sacred, I like the idea of J.J. going down the same route as Rey, Finn and Poe: taking what has gone before and running with it. I like the idea of the absence of nostalgia and that the distinction between good and evil has to be more clearly drawn than it was before. We’re living in a time now where not actively standing against evil can make you complicit in its rise. The First Order is not that dissimilar from right wing movements popping up across the Western World, except for the fact it already has power. Star Wars is learning from its own past, and the way ti rhymes lets it both comment upon the world it is created in and the world it shows.

Keri Russell as the masked scoundrel Zorri Bliss.

The highlights from the Vanity Fair article were, naturally, its stunning photos by Annie Leibovitz. I love the glances at new characters that we’ve been given! There’s Keri Russell, whose photo description reveals her as ‘the masked scoundrel Zorry Bliss, seen in the Thieves’ Quarter of the snow-dusted world Kijimi’. There’s so much to unpack there! Firstly, I’m getting solid Zam Wesell vibes from Zorry Bliss. Their first names even start with the same letter! Ok, as far as evidence goes that doesn’t take us anywhere, but I’ve always loves Zam so I’m excited to see where Zorry takes us. And secondly, if the past use of ‘scoundrel’ in Star Wars gives us any kind of indication, Zorry will have swagger to spare. I also look forward to exploring the Thieves’ Quarter and Kijimi. Any new planet is an exciting addition, as is any look at the seedy underworld of the Star Wars universe. It also seems to me that the sandy planet we’re seeing, filming for which took place in Jordan, is Pasaana, not Tatooine or Jakku. Anakin would hate the fact there is more than one planet full of sand around. Then there’s Richard E. Grant as Allegiant General Pryde. I don’t know much about him, but Grant knows how to portray both menace and humour, so I’m onboard for the Hux-Pryde duo. I have also fallen in love with Naomi Ackie’s Jannah, whom we know nothing about expect that she knows how to ride a space horse, also known as an orbak, while shooting a bow and arrow. Be still my beating heart!

General Hux Allegiant General Pryde on the bridge of Kylo Rens destroyer.

One of the most discussed photos in the article is of Kylo and Rey as they ‘battle it out with lightsabers in a story confrontation’, whose bond ‘will turn out to run even deeper than previously revealed’. The photos title is ‘Star Crossed’, which of course almost always refers to star crossed lovers, carrying with it a romantic connotation. However, the words simply mean that the relationship, of whatever nature, is ill-fated. Romeo & Juliet are star crossed, as were Anakin and Padme. They were ultimately doomed because of Anakin’s fear of loss, yet, as Vanity Fair’s article states, Kylo’s exact fear isn’t clear yet. Personally I think he is afraid of what his heritage means and that the past is what haunts him, which means that his advice to Rey to “Let the past die.” should very much be directed inwards. Whether it is his past as a child to two people ‘obsessively committed to lifestyles … that doesn’t leave much room for kids’ or the more distant past of his grandfather, he is haunted.

Kylo Ren  and Rey battle it out with lightsabers.

It seems that Rey will be key to Kylo’s arc, but I very much hope that this is not to the detriment of her own development. Accordinng to the article, Rey is enarly at the end of her training and if fthe trailer gave us any kind of indication, she is all kinds of powerful now. A showdown between a fully trained Rey, who rightfully questions why Kylo would let all he had go, and a Kylo battling with himself will be fascinating.

Meanwhile, Finn has an amazing new hairstyle and I can’t wait to see what he does in The Rise of Skywalker after having fully committed to the Resistance at the end of The Last Jedi. Personally I’m not too interested in his “romantic situation”, especially since love triangles are ultimately boring. Both Rey and Rose have too much going for themselves to be in any ways propped up as love rivals. (Do you hear me, J.J.? Don’t do it!) I am also very saddened by the fact we haven’t seen anything of Kelly Marie Tran in either the trailer or this article, but I hope that means her role is too crucial to spoil. Poe is also fully committing to becoming the leader he showed himself capable of being on Crait. With Leia most likely making her exit early on in The Rise of Skywalker, I hope to see Poe really rise to the occasion. Images of Rey, Finn and Poe all together on a mission to save the galaxy also bring me a lot of joy.

Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian and Oscar Isaac Poe Dameron with Chewbacca DO and BB8.

The article’s discussion of Carrie Fisher’s inclusion in the movie is very interesting, as it becomes clear that Leia’s role was created actively around the remaining footage of Fisher. I love the idea that ‘an element of the uncanny, spiritual, you know, classic Carrie’ is still represented in the film, although I imagine it will be hard for many to watch her on the screen. Leia, alongside Billy Dee Williams’ Lando is the Sequel trilogy’s last real link to what has come before. I think the photo shown of Luke and R2-D2 means we’re going to dig deeper into what Rey saw during her Force vision in The Force Awakens, which means that the past will continue to play a role. By mostly focusing on its new characters, though, I hope The Rise of Skywalker will make Star Wars all the more relevant to our current cultural moment. As J.J. says

“This trilogy is about this young generation, this new generation, having to deal with all the debt that has come before,” Abrams says. “And it’s the sins of the father, and it’s the wisdom and the accomplishments of those who did great things, but it’s also those who committed atrocities, and the idea that this group is up against this unspeakable evil and are they prepared? Are they ready? What have they learned from before? It’s less about grandeur. It’s less about restoring an old age. It’s more about preserving a sense of freedom and not being one of the oppressed.”

The future is in the new generation’s hands, and that means both us, the audience, and them, the characters. What will we make of our own future? Will we hold on to the past, whether that’s antiquated ideologies or anger about who shot first, or will we look ahead, at a horizon showing a new hope, the rise of something stable?

What are your thoughts on the new characters and the little tidbits revealed in the article?

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